Wednesday, February 3, 2016

From Burnt Sand to Swarvoski Crystals

Stardust Mitts
Why shouldn't fine crystals be worn every day?  The Stardust Mitts Kit is the perfect combination of beautiful Rowan yarn and twinkly Swarovski crystal beads.  The pretty little crystals are tucked into the cables and add sparkle without being too much.  Don't save them for special occasions - these are perfect for adding a bit of sparkle to every day!

You already know that crystals - and especially Swarovski crystals - are a cut above plain old regular glass.  But why? 

Glass is made by melting silica, the main ingredient in sand.  This can occur naturally when lightening strikes sand, and the result is called fulgurite.  But fulgurite is quite ugly, just a metallic blue-grey colored lumpy thing.

Fulgurite - Ugly!
The first man-made glass was likely made in Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C. and - no surprise to knitters like us - the first glass item created was probably beads!  Metals are found in nature as ores, metal mixed with silica and other impurities.  When ancient metal workers heated the ores to remove the pure metal the leftover hot silica formed glass.  The little glass bits were pretty and shiny - but not clear.  Transparent glass came much later, around 300 A.D.

Through the next few centuries glass making ebbed and flowed as some cultures perfected the art while others seemed to have lost interest and then rediscovered it.

The Crystal Palace, London, 1851
In 1674 Englishman George Ravenscroft added lead oxide to molten glass forming what we today call lead crystal.  The lead increased the "working period" of the glass, making it easier to work with, and also made the glass not just transparent but a striking, gorgeous crystal clear.

Lead crystal is actually a form of glass and not technically a crystal in the scientific sense, but it has always been called lead crystal because the crystal-like brilliance and sparkle outshines ordinary glass. (Natural rock crystal is pretty but extremely brittle and difficult to work with.)

Within a few years glasshouses were producing glass and lead crystal all over Europe.  It was so popular in Europe that England imposed a glass tax in 1746.  It worked as an income tax, since the wealthy purchased more glass than lower classes.  The glass tax was repealed in 1845, and just as tax-free glass was becoming affordable for the masses the 1851 London Great Exposition was held in the Crystal Palace.  The Crystal Palace was a built of cast iron and large sheets of cheap but strong glass that created astonishing clear walls and ceilings the likes of which had never been seen.

Daniel Swarovski's Electric Crystal Cutting Machine, 1892
Daniel Swarovski was born in 1862, the son of a glass cutter, and became an apprentice at an early age learning to cut glass by hand.  In 1892 he patented an electric cutting machine that allowed lead crystal to be cut precisely.  Even the slightest bit of unevenness diminishes the sparkle of lead crystal, and his new cutting machine produced crystals with perfect facets for an incredible, sparkling brilliance that just wasn't possible with hand-cut lead crystal glass.  At the same time, he continuously refined his crystal formula to create greater and greater clarity.  Now run by the fifth generation Swarovski family, the exact formula of a Swarovski crystal is still a closely guarded secret today.

During World War I Swarovski used his expertise with precision cutting to help the war effort, and a branch of the company continued in the same direction after the war.  In 1935 Daniel's son Wilhelm, an amateur astronomer, produced a prototype pair of binoculars, and today Swarovski Optik designs binoculars, hunting rifle scopes, and photography equipment.

The Shine Collection
Since then Swarovski has added a lighting division, road safety division (Ever wonder why the road stripes are so bright?  They've got crystals embedded that reflect the light from your car's headlights), and a division that manufactures sawing and drilling tools.  But, of course, my favorite is their partnership with Rowan yarns to produce the Shine Collection, combining Rowan's finest yarns with Swarovski crystals designed for knitting and crocheting beadwork.

And that's why Swarovski crystals truly are not just a cut above the rest, but a precision cut above the rest!

Happy Knitting (and beading!) . . . . Scout

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Camborne Pullover and the History of Hemp

Camborne Pullover
It's a sweater.  It's a poncho.  No, it's a "Swoncho!"  Ok, it's actually called the Camborne Pullover, but since it's bulkier than a sweater, but more fitted than a poncho, we've been calling it the Swoncho around here.

The Camborne Pullover is knit in Rowan's Hemp Tweed yarn, a beautiful blend of wool and hemp in a versatile worsted weight . . .  But let's be honest here, "yarn" is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "hemp."

But perhaps it should be . . .

Hemp has been grown for fiber for at least 12,000 years.  Naturally resistant to mold and ultraviolet light, sailing ships used hemp rope for their riggings, and hemp fiber was used to make sail canvas.  In fact the word "canvas" is derived from the word "cannabis."  (Both hemp fiber and marijuana are products of cannabis plants, but different species of cannabis.)

"Garden Hemp" in a book published in the year 512
With sailing ships being the best method of long-distance transportation, hemp rope production was extremely profitable.  When The Virginia Company established settlements in the New World a 1619 law required all planters to grow hemp.  When the Puritans arrived in 1620 they initially struggled for survival, but by 1645 they were thriving - in part because they were profiting from hemp.

What did our founding fathers think of hemp?  George Washington grew hemp as a cash crop in 1765.  Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that produced hemp paper, and in 1776 Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.

But in the 19th century Americans discovered Manila hemp.  Although it was new to us, in the Philippines they had been using fiber from the banana plant to make rope, paper and fabric for centuries (our modern manila envelopes and manila paper are made from Manila hemp).  Manila hemp is not related to the hemp plant, but Americans called it Manila hemp because the fiber's qualities were so like the hemp we were familiar with.  Hemp production in the US went down in favor of less expensive imported Manila hemp.  

Hemp stem showing fibers around a central core.
So how is hemp yarn made?  Fiber is made from the stem of the hemp plant.  Hemp grown for fiber is planted close together which forces the plant to grow tall and straight, with few leaves.  Similar to how flax is processed into linen, the cut hemp is left lying in the field for four to six weeks to rett.  The natural wetting and drying from the dew in the morning and the heat in the afternoon removes the pectin from the plant, a natural glue that attaches all those lovely fibers to the stem of the plant.  (And yes, pectin is the same natural plant glue that you add to your home-canned jelly).  The hemp is then collected from the field and baled like hay.  The hemp is rolled to remove the woody center core from the outer fibers, and then it is cleaned, carded and spun. And finally, we have yarn!

So should you smoke your Camborne Pullover?  Don't bother.  Hemp fiber is made from the stems, and the leaves (the smokeable part) rot away during the retting process.  In addition, species of hemp grown for fiber have less than .1% of THC and the smokin' variety has 20% THC.

But you should knit a Camborne Pullover!  The pattern is free with the purchase of Rowan Hemp Tweed yarn - and we've got the yarn on sale at 20% off!

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The History of Knitting: Part I

Oldest Knitting: Sock at V&A Museum
The very first knitter in the history of mankind was . . . . well, nobody knows.

Very few examples of ancient knitting exist.  Since early knitting was made with natural fibers much of it naturally disintegrated on its own.  It is also likely that the earliest knitting was practical garments such as socks, caps and gloves.  And, seriously, do you save your old socks?  After ancient socks were worn beyond the mending point they were likely thrown away or tossed into the rag bag, just like today. 

But there is another reason that museums have so few examples of ancient knitting.  The golden age of archaeology was the 1920s.  Great tombs and fascinating pyramids were discovered and investigated.  In the race to acquire extraordinary mummies, valuable pottery and fascinating gold masks, ancient knitwear may have been tossed aside as worthless (A shocking concept to knitters like us!).  In addition, most of the early archaeologists were men who were unfamiliar with knitting, and as a result many nalbinded pieces were incorrectly identified as knitting, further confusing the history of knitting.  (For a fascinating look at rediscovering ancient knitting read Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years - Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber).

Nalbinded Socks in V&A Museum
This was the case with a gorgeous pair of red socks made in Egypt approximately 250 - 420 AD.  For many years these socks were thought to be the earliest known knitting, and it was only recently that they were discovered to be nalbinding.  These were excavated in the burial grounds of an ancient Greek colony in Egypt in the 19th century.  They were given to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1900, and have remained there ever since.  The silly looking split toe is so that they can be worn with sandals.

So what is nalbinding?  Nalbinding is a method of connecting loops, similar to knitting (and often called single-needle knitting).  Nalbinding uses one needle with a hole in the end, like a huge a sewing needle, and like sewing it is done with a short length of yarn.  At the end of each length of yarn you must splice the end of one piece with the beginning of the next piece instead of working continuously from a ball of yarn.  It is thought to be a predecessor of knitting, but because it is so much slower, knitting became much more common.  There are still nalbinders today - but not many!

The oldest known knitting is a remnant of a sock made in Egypt around 1100 - 1300 and now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (pictured at the top).  A gorgeous two-color cotton design from an obviously experienced knitter, this is the oldest known surviving relic, but certainly was not the first-ever attempt at knitting. 

Knit Cap, 1500 - 1550, at V&A Museum
Through the centuries knitting spread from Egypt throughout Europe, but while China's culture was flourishing at this time there is, sadly, no evidence that the Chinese had adapted the craft.  Their strict trade and immigration policies meant that their culture remained uninfluenced by the outside world.  Knitting wasn't introduced in China until the early 1920s when anti-Communist Russians fled Russia after losing the Russian Civil War and settled in Shanghai.  The Chinese admired the Russians' warm knit caps and mittens and their beautifully knit military sashes, and the history of knitting in China began.

ChiaoGoo Bamboo Sock Set
Early knitting needles in Europe were metal, but in China - where bamboo is so abundant - bamboo needles were and still are very popular.  Some of the best bamboo needles come from ChiaoGoo, a company that is the result of three generations of bamboo craftsmen.  Grandfather Zheng was a bamboo craftsman who traveled from town to town with his bamboo kit making chairs, tables, barrels and baskets.  Father Zheng followed in his footsteps, but later quit traveling and built a permanent workshop.  He continued to make bamboo household goods, but also made bamboo knitting needles for Mama Zheng.  Mama Zheng was the original "ChiaoGoo" which means a "highly skilled and crafty lady."  She tested the bamboo needles and made suggestions, and soon Father Zheng's primary product became bamboo knitting needles.

In honor of Mama Zheng and all of the "crafty ladies" throughout history, we've got our ChiaoGoo needles on sale at 20% off now through February 21st, 2016.   

Stay tuned!  More on the history of knitting will follow in another post. 

Happy Knitting . . . . Scout

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rowan - From Rug Yarn to Luxury Yarns

Oldest Surviving Rug - 5th Century BC Pazyryk Carpet
The oldest known surviving carpet in the world is the Pazyryk Carpet from the 5th century BC.  Unearthed in a frozen Pazyryk grave (in Siberia), the wool rug is in remarkable condition.  The design has flowers along with horsemen, griffins (a mythical half lion-half eagle beast), and deer woven in rich reds, blue and yellow.

You know Rowan as a knitting yarn manufacturer today, but did you know they started out making rug yarn?  Nearly 2,000 years after the Pazyryk Carpet was made (in 1978, to be exact), Stephen Sheard and Simon Cockin set up shop in Yorkshire, England to sell rug yarn.

Now the thing about rug yarn is it has to be a sturdy, durable yarn and able to withstand a lot of use - but not necessary pretty.  Rowan's aim was to change that standard by developing colorful rug weaving yarns in vibrant colors.  Their rug yarn was targeted towards designers and rug weavers who wanted to create rugs that were exciting!

Rowan Pure Wool Worsted
Kaffe Fassett was (and still is!) a painter, knitter, and needlepoint designer who loved vibrant colors when he teamed up with Rowan in 1981.  He consulted Rowan on rug yarn colors, but with Kaffe Fassett egging them on it wasn't long before Rowan shifted its focus away from rug yarn to the luxury handknit yarns that we know Rowan for today.

And that's good news for knitters like us!  We carry 42 different Rowan yarns. For the month of January we have all of them on sale at 20% off!

That's a lot of fun yarn to choose from, but I'd have to say my favorites are Pure Wool Superwash Worsted and Pure Wool Superwash DK.  They're both good, solid staple yarns in an impressive range of colors (55 Worsted colors and over 30 DK colors!), plus I like that they are machine washable and maintain their wool features better than other superwashes.
Max's Adventures with Rainbows Sweater
Of all of the staff here at FiberWild! only Karen has grandchildren, so we all swoon appropriately over her grandkids - and especially over things she has knit for the grands!  Karen was just giddy over two-year-old Max's sweater, knit with the Adventures with Rainbows pattern by Jennifer Steingass (available on Ravelry) with Pure Wool Superwash Worsted yarn.  Karen said it was a simple knit that went quickly because of the weight of the yarn - because there's nothing worse than finishing a child's garment only to find out he outgrew it before you finished it!

Kaffe Fassett KAL in Pastels, by Ladymay

Psst!  Did you join in the 2014 Kaffe Fassett Mystry Knit-Along?  We have a great shopping list of the Rowan Pure Wool Worsted yarn needed for each of Kaffe's four suggested colorways - and they are all on sale at 20% off!  Plus, since the pattern is no longer a mystery, we have photos of the completed projects!  Yay!

Happy Knitting . . . . Amy

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Storey Time! - Join Martin Storey's New KAL

Martin Storey KAL
It's Storey time!  And I don't mean the cookies and milk kind of story time, I mean it's time for another great knit along with veteran designer Martin Storey!

This is Martin Storey's second knit along featuring Rowan Pure Wool Superwash Worsted, and this time he has created an amazing eight color afghan.

Martin Storey afghan in Blues Colorway
Pure Wool Superwash Worsted is a practical, everyday wool that offers the quality and durability of the Rowan brand in a simple easy-care wool at a remarkably fair price. But with over 50 colors of Pure Wool Superwash Worsted to choose from, how will you narrow it down to eight colors?  More importantly - pick eight colors that blend well together?  No problem!  Martin has used his keen eye to select four classic tonal palettes designed to fit in with the most popular interior color schemes.  Choose from the Blues, Evergreen, Spice or Calm colorways. You can rest assured that your colors will look terrific together and we've even put them in nifty, easy to shop kits!

This KAL was designed with the beginner knitter in mind, but it expands on the techniques of Martin's first KAL. In this blanket, the knitter will start to create recognizable motifs in both one and two color squares, delicate motifs in simple textures, and lace.  The gorgeous designs were influenced by knitted textures and Fair Isle patterns from the Shetland and Faeroe Islands as well as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland.  For the more adventurous among us, he's even offered a further option to introduce beginner knitters to a simple bead knitting technique.

The afghan is knit in squares, so the project travels well and can be knit away from home (not always easy to do with a large project!).  Eight different squares are each knit six times for a total of 48 squares.  Starting January 28th, two square patterns are released each month on Ravelry with the final project close on May 26th.  It's a nice project to work on through the cold winter months - and you'll be done and ready for smaller projects in time for summer!

Our KAL kits are discounted 25% off from the regular price of the Pure Wool Superwash Worsted yarn - plus get free shipping in the US and Canada!

So leave the cookies and milk behind, grab your knitting needles (and some wine and crackers!) and get ready for some grown-up Storey Time!

Happy Knitting . . . . Amy

Monday, December 28, 2015

Stockroom Sale - Great End of Year Prices!

Stockroom Sale - Now through January 3rd!
An end-of-the-year sale is often called a "White Sale."  The tradition dates back to the late 19th century when retailers highlighted household linens, and since in those days household linens such as bed sheets, towels, cloth napkins and table cloths were always white, calling it a White Sale was appropriate.

Our sale includes white yarn but also an amazing rainbow of brilliant colors!  So instead of calling it a "White, Blue, Yellow, Green, Red, Purple and Orange Sale," we are simply calling it our Stockroom Sale.

Perfectly Posh Sport in Dream On
Did you get money for the holidays?  Our Stockroom Sale includes tons of yarn!  All sale yarns are at least 20% off, and clearance items are 25% to 40% off to give you more bang for your holiday bucks.  Visit our "Sales" Page to see the entire list, but here are a few of my favorites:
  • Dream in Color's Perfectly Posh Sport has been a favorite of mine, but it's been discontinued (boo hoo!), so we've got it on sale at 40% off.  It's a unique blend of velvety cashmere, soft baby fine mohair, luxurious silk, and cozy merino wool. What ever you create with this sport weight yarn will be perfectly posh!
  • Classic Elite's Toboggan is soft and warm enough to wear while sledding through the snow on your toboggan!  This super bulky blend of merino wool and superfine alpaca is a terrific 30% off!
  • A slightly heavier version of Dream in Color's Everlasting Sock yarn, Everlasting Sock Heavy is a limited edition yarn available only at FiberWild!  This 100% superwash Australian wool yarn is 30% off - and includes a free sock pattern!
  • Rowan's Pure Linen is,
    Silkystones in Dell
    well, pure linen.  This 100% linen with an easy feel and airy drape is great for summer garments - and it's 30% off!
  • Rowan's Silkystones is a uniquely textured worsted weight yarn that combines Toussah silk with linen.  A soft yarn with a bit of drape, Silkystones is great for a summer tank or a lightweight pullover - and it's 30% off!
  • Rowan's Fine Art Aran combines all of the favorites - merino wool, kid mohair, superfine alpaca and mulberry silk.  This medium weight yarn is uniquely hand painted in wonderful colors - great for a funky hat or a cozy cowl!  And it's 40% off! 
  • If it's called Tiffany it's gotta have some bling!  Filatura Di Crosa's Tiffany is a cotton and viscose blend with a bit of tweed and a bit of metallic.  Give your garments some personality - and it's 40% off!
Tiffany in Amber
Wrap up your year with some new yarn at amazing prices for your New Year's projects!  This sale ends Sunday, January 3rd.

Happy Knitting . . . . Amy

    Thursday, December 24, 2015

    Happy Holidays From Everyone At FiberWild!

    The shopping, decorating and anticipation has all come to its peak:  Christmas is here!  Merry Christmas from all of us here at FiberWild!

    The store will be closed on Christmas Day while Sean and I and all of our staff enjoy the day with our families!

    So who's the crew?  From left to right: Amber, Sean in the goofy hat, Me in the red sweater, Wendi in front in black, Taylor with blond straight hair, Jessie with blond curly hair, Matt in the back row, Nicki, Vera in the back row, Suzy in the front row, Deb in back and Karen on the right. 

    Psst:  A note to procrastinators - e-mail Gift Certificates can be ordered up until noon Central Time on Christmas Eve.  It's not too late!

    Merry Christmas, and Happy Knitting . . . . Amy